The return to campus has been far from a smooth transition. Students have faced obstacle after obstacle in the early portion of this semester, whether that be the emotional turmoil of returning to classes, trying to re-adjust socially or the seemingly unending snow. Moreover, we were set up for a tumultuous start of the spring semester way back on Jan. 5, 2022 when President John Bravman emailed the student body regarding pre-arrival testing and COVID-19 protocols.
Mere days later, Dean Amy Badal followed up the president’s email on Jan. 11 affirming that the tests “should arrive soon” through FedEx, which was already an indication that the university would be cutting it close with receiving test results. If students received their tests on the afternoon of Jan. 11, then they would receive their results that Friday before move-in because as per the full 72 hours needed to process the test—and that was if everything including shipping, schedules and addresses ran smoothly. Therefore, when students did not receive their tests that afternoon or were unable to send the test back that same day, it was extremely unlikely that they received their test results by Saturday, Jan. 15.
As we now know, many students did not receive their test kits on Jan. 11. Bella Dragone ’24 said that her “test wasn’t delivered to [her] house until Friday (Jan. 14) afternoon and [she] left for campus on Saturday” and added, “I sent it in the same day but never got my results back even now.” Bella is amongst a large portion of students who returned to campus without test results as a result of the University’s logistical and clerical errors. Without test results, students were ridden with fear of being unenrolled from the spring semester. As Bella states, “The last thing I wanted was to be unenrolled from classes due to the University’s own logistical mistakes.” The confusion and fear did not build the foundations for a consistent, fruitful semester that we all hope for. Furthermore, the inability to execute PCR testing before arrival, left students, faculty and staff vulnerable to COVID-19.
The logistical errors of the administration are at play in a larger debate about the University’s return to in-person. We should have not returned in person and placed students and, specifically, faculty and staff’s health at risk. Between the delay of test results and the threat of unenrollment, it would have been more responsible to delay the start of in-person and enforce a quarantine until students had received their PCR results. Professor Michael Drexler shares his thoughts about the full return to in-person instruction: “Along with several other faculty members, I raised concerns about our plans to restart the spring semester in-person. Many proposed starting remotely for at least one week as many other colleges had already announced that they planned to do. That’s obviously not the direction Bucknell chose. I think it is too early to tell what the costs of that decision will be. But at a minimum, Bucknell decided that the health concerns of people with disabilities or compromised immune systems and those with children under five or with elderly people in their households were not important enough to delay the in-person part of the semester for the young and able-bodied. This immoral calculus is precisely what the Americans with Disabilities Act had aimed to prevent. So, yes, I remain disappointed. And I hope no one gets seriously ill.”
It should also be noted that the University policy neglects both the needs of professors and the student body. Many students received positive at-home PCR results after having received a negative on-campus antigen test. For students who did not receive their at-home PCR results in time, they tested on campus, which was pointless. At that point, friends had already helped others move-in and had hug-filled reunions. Students were already making weekend plans and trying to reconnect and reintegrate to campus—and possibly spreading COVID-19. In many of these cases, including Margaret Hunter’s ’24, students were then sent to the isolation hotel. Bucknell University policy asserts that students must isolate for six days following the date on which their positive result was swabbed; therefore, when delayed results came back four to five days following the initial test, some students had to stay in the hotel for as little as a day. Hunter was sent to isolation housing for a day and a half and notes her concern for having already been in contact with her peers: “I’d already been in close contact with a number of my friends, so it was additionally nerve-racking to consider how my peers could be impacted as well.” Students that faced similar circumstances more than likely arrived on campus and unknowingly exposed other members of the campus community.
On the COVID-19 Dashboard, there is a surge of pre-arrival positives on Jan. 17. Is it not possible that those 112 positives are in fact the at-home test results finally coming in after students had already moved in? And it is certainly no coincidence that the number of on-campus positive tests increased in the following days.
The University had every opportunity to avoid all the confusion of late-arriving tests, antigen testing and day-long hotel isolation. For starters, the tests could have been shipped in early January (similar to last year) to ensure all students had access to a PCR test. By having taken the simple, earlier step, the spread of COVID-19 and subsequent stress for students would have been diminished, but instead, students were left scrambling during the first week and professors remained disappointed in the University.